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Duke track and field readies for meets, Mother Nature

<p>The Blue Devils will head to Chapel Hill and Blacksburg, Va., for a pair of competition&mdash;if the weather allows.</p>

The Blue Devils will head to Chapel Hill and Blacksburg, Va., for a pair of competition—if the weather allows.

Update, 1:10 p.m. The Hokie Invitational has been cancelled due to expected winter weather in Blacksburg, Va.

The Blue Devils had just a short week of team practices before their season opener at the Carolina Cup last weekend but may find themselves with two weeks of workouts in between competitions if this weekend’s meets are canceled due to inclement weather.

The multi-event specialists are slated to make the short trip back to Chapel Hill for the Tobacco Road Cup dual with North Carolina Thursday and Friday, and the rest of the squad will compete at the Hokie Invitational in Blacksburg, Va., Friday and Saturday.

“We were all set to go down a day early to get ahead of the weather, but Virginia Tech is questioning whether they can effectively hold the meet because they are supposed to get blasted with snow up there,” Duke director of track and field Norm Ogilvie said. “In Chapel Hill, they could probably get that first day in, but the second day would be in question. This could be one of those weekends where Mother Nature overrules our best plans.”

If the Blue Devils are able to compete this weekend, they will look to build on their runner-up finish at the Carolina Cup at both unscored competitions.

Duke posted strong performances at the Tobacco Road Cup last season, led by second-place finishes by now-redshirt senior Karli Johonnot and current senior Robert Rohner. Johonnot recorded a five-event point total of 4,022 points and Rohner earned a seven-event total of 5,168.

Finishing 75 points behind Rohner, Tanner Johnson stole the show with a third-place finish in the first heptathlon of his collegiate career, good for fifth on Duke's all-time list. The sophomore moved up a spot in the record books with a fourth-place showing at the 2015 ACC indoor championships, tallying 5,349 points.

Last year in Blacksburg, the Blue Devils picked up three top finishes and broke two school records in their first of four consecutive meets with a new Duke record. Then-senior Elizabeth Kerpon and current sophomore Chaz Hawkins posted the fastest times by a Blue Devil in the 300-meter dash, with Kerpon crossing the line in 38.47 seconds and Hawkins in 34.74 seconds.

Freshman sprinter Sydnei Murphy started her collegiate campaign tying a 14-year-old record in the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.57 seconds at the Carolina Cup. Murphy also landed at second on Duke’s all-time list with a mark of 19 feet, 3 1/2 inches in the long jump and could continue to shake up the program’s all-time top 10 this weekend. 

Both meets will feature familiar competition as pentathletes Johonnot, Teddi Maslowski and Jaida Lemmons and heptathletes Rohner, Johnson and Connor Hall return to the Eddie Smith Field House for the second time in as many weeks. The Blue Devil contingent heading to Blacksburg will face representatives of the three other schools that competed in the Carolina Cup—North Carolina, N.C. State and East Carolina.

Although Duke will travel outside of the conference for a handful of meets—including the Armory Collegiate Invitational Feb. 5-6 and the Millrose Games Feb. 20 in New York—it will see many familiar faces in the weeks leading up to the ACC indoor championships Feb. 25-27 in Boston.

“We are rivals with [N.C. State] and [North Carolina] but we are all friends. We all come here and we all hang out together because this is our track family,” pole vaulter Megan Clark said after the Carolina Cup. “If you look at the runway, we are all cheering for each other—you’re not hoping the other person fails. I’d rather lose to half of them and [get a personal record] than win and not jump well.”

But if the teams and officials are unable to make the trip to Blacksburg or Chapel Hill, the Blue Devils will take the free weekend to prepare for the two-day Camel City Invitational in Winston-Salem, N.C., starting Jan. 29.

“There’s the competitive part of you that wants to compete no matter what, but you have to be smart about things and the well-being of your student-athletes,” Ogilvie said. “If it’s safer to stay home, we will have to do that.” 

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